In a video taken a few months ago at a private fundraiser Mitt Romney stated that “[t]here are 47 percent [of the American people] who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” This 47% number has been circulating since the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center “estimated last year that 46.4 percent of American households would pay no federal income taxes in 2011.”
Is Romney’s premise correct, that these non-income-tax-paying Americans are government-dependent leeches with no affinity for Republican candidates? The Boston Globe reports that the study
did not support Romney’s suggestion that almost half the country is made up of people who do not take responsibility for their own lives and instead rely on government handouts.
Half of the households that pay no federal income taxes earn so little—typically less than $30,000—that standard deductions and personal and dependent exemptions shrink their taxable income to zero.
On a 2012 IRS filing, for instance, a family of four with a household income of $27,100 would have reported no taxable income because of an $11,900 standard deduction for married couples and personal and dependent tax exemptions of $3,800 each.
Among the other half of those whose income is not taxed by the federal government, 44 percent are exempt primarily because they receive tax deductions for the elderly or Social Security benefits that are not taxable because of low incomes, or both. Another 30.4 percent are working households that earn so little that benefits such as the child tax credit and earned income tax credit reduce their tax liabilities to zero.
Other people who could not be called irresponsible—including members of the military deployed in combat zones—do not pay federal income taxes. About 6 percent of nonpaying households are exempt mainly because of education credits, and 1.3 percent pay nothing because of low rates on capital gains and dividends, which, combined with tax credits, erase their federal income tax obligations.
Many in the latter group are wealthy people who derive much of their incomes from investments. The Tax Policy Center estimated that 4,000 households that earned more than $1 million last year paid no federal income taxes.
If you believe that the liberal Boston Globe has cherry-picked the Tax Policy Center report to make Romney look bad, consider the blog post from conservative William Kristol of The Weekly Standard. Titled “A Note on Romney’s Arrogant and Stupid Remarks” Kristol’s post first criticizes Obama for remarks he made in 2008 about people “in small towns in Pennsylvania” and throughout the Midwest: “[I]t’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
After repeating Romney’s fundraiser remarks Kristol says:
It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters—especially of course seniors (who might well “believe they are entitled to heath care,” a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.
Kristol still urges his readers to vote for Romney (although he’d prefer a “Ryan and Rubio ticket”), but he notes “that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant.”